VICTORIA – The autumn months in Vancouver Island are some of the most spectacular. The dense forests offer a myriad of rich warm colours as the fall foliage turns to red and orange and all the hues in between. It also marks the season for spawning salmon which undertake their epic annual journey. Each year, over a million Pacific salmon forge their way up the many streams of the Pacific northwest to spawn and die. Being in Victoria late October, it was something I was keen to see first hand. Luckily, Goldstream Provincial Park is a world class salmon spawning stream and located about a 40 minute drive north of Victoria on Highway 1. The main route north for the island; the road can get very busy, so look out for the signs in order to be able to turn off in time.
For the salmon, it’s all about timing. They congregate in the Saanich Inlet waiting for the right moment to begin their arduous swim upstream. The first time I went, it turned out I was a little early, and the salmon were waiting for a good dose of rain to swell the rivers and make the task that bit easier. Luckily, for the salmon at least, five days of torrential rain seemed to do the trick. I arrived early, which was just as well, as even at 10 am, the car park was packed. Quite a few people had brought chairs or were setting up to do painting and drawing which added to the idyllic nature of the place. The stream is barely 20 meters from the car parking so it requires very little effort to see the salmon.
I hadn’t appreciated how large salmon can get. Every so often two or three would surge forward, thrashing about and progress several meters upstream. In doing so, much of their body is out of the water and you get to see both their size and sheer exertion in pushing themselves through the oncoming waters. Of the five kinds of North American Pacific salmon, it is the Chum salmon that is most abundant in this river, though you may also see some Coho and Chinook salmon, as well as the Steelhead and the Cutthroat trout. There are plenty of information points that will help in identifying what they all are, but I found most locals were happy to share their knowledge and insights.
A contemplative experience, watching the Salmon Run should be done in silence so as to not disturb the fish. Having said that, with the splashing of the salmon and the cries of the gulls eagerly eyeing up their dining opportunities it is not exactly quiet.
After half an hour, I walked down to the visitors centre. Covering just under four square kilometers, this ancient forest has , some of which are Douglas-fir and western red cedar up to 600 years old. Mount Finlayson make a majestic and imposing presence over the park and for the fit and adventurous, there are plenty of tracks for longer walks and hikes.
Though one worthy point to note: you should be alert and watch out for black bears which often come down to make the most of the salmon buffet. The visitor centre is a leisurely 15 metre walk from the car park and provides basic amenities for refreshment and toilet breaks. In addition, it provides plenty of useful local information for those wishing to explore further and often has a stunning exhibition of local artists and artisans which is available for purchase.
text James Tulley